The last time I'd visited the shop had been a few years before. He'd been doing well, but most of the stock was online and the shop had just had books, DVDs and CDs. When I stepped inside for the interview, I couldn't help but be surprised by the transformation.
My uncle had utilized the space for second-hand and brand-new stuff. It had started out purely as second hand but he had clearly expanded. Now, there were boxes containing comic books sitting under the DVD displays. Vinyl records lined a wall, CDs were set out on a few shelves. There were games and consoles in one corner, as far back as the SNES. By the door were shelves upon shelves of books in various conditions, mostly sci-fi and fantasy but a few classics, too.
Yet what amazed me the most were the action figures. I recognised about a third of them from Mattie's own house. More boxes of comics sat under them, and on either side of the action figures were circular tubes crammed with posters.
A boy about my age stood behind the counter, flicking through a comic. He glanced up, eyes roaming up and down me before calling over his shoulder. "Girl's here for the interview!"
Matt had told me I didn't need to dress up, but it was an interview and first impressions were important. I'd dug out a pin-stripe pencil skirt and above it wore one of my school blouses. As I waited, I tugged the blouse down, eyeing the boy as his gaze turned back to me.
"Favourite superhero?" he asked, one elbow on the table, eyes narrowed.
I shrugged. "Harry Potter?"
"Standard." He sighed, looking disappointed as the door behind him opened to reveal the manager. Jared was a tall guy with long dark hair tied back, and a thick beard. He stepped forward, put a hand on the boy's shoulder and gently shoved him.
"S'my job to ask questions," he grunted, before turning to me and smiling. "So you're Matt's niece. Come on, office is this way."
I stepped around the till, the guy winking at me before returning to his comic book. Jared pushed open the door and held it for me. The office was small, just about big enough for the desk with a chair on one side and two on the other. On the wall behind the desk were shelves, full of folders and notepads. Jared sat in front of them while I took the seat facing. He rummaged in the pile of papers on the desk before pulling out something in a poly pocket. He glanced over it, sniffed and lifted his gaze to me.
"Your uncle is a bleeding heart," he said. "Would hire every sod bag that came in here and never get rid of the crap workers." Jared grinned, showing all his teeth. "Luckily, he's got me to sort through the crap. We've been looking for a part time kid for nearly two months now. Few got interviewed, none got the job."
It felt like a black hole had opened up in my stomach. I clasped my hands together under the table, trying to keep them from shaking. I put them on my legs, stopping them from leaping up and knocking the desk.
"Can I ask why?"
"One girl said she absolutely loved Lord of the Rings, turned out just the films. Some kids just don't know their stuff." He sighed, flicking the application form over. "I'm not a culture snob, Sophia, but she said she'd read all the books multiple times. I don't like people who lie to me." His eyes darted up and down. "Okay, let's start with a simple one. What makes you want this job?"
"I love the shop," I said. "Matt brought me and my brother to the opening. And I was constantly checking the website. Could never afford any of it, though. And Matt got us some of the best stuff for Christmas and birthdays, anyway."
He grinned. "Yeah, he's a generous bugger. So, preference. Films, music, TV or books?"
"Thought you were starting easy?"
"That's not easy?"
I shrugged. "Well…they all have their own merits. Their own value. I listen to music when I read. A soundtrack can make a good film or show great. Books provide the source for some really good films. And separately, well, you can't really compare them, can you?"
"If I told you that you could walk out into the shop and pick a film, CD, TV box set or a book, what would you pick?"
"What, not allowed a game?"
He laughed, before gesturing at my application. "You mention all of them, but not video games."
I could feel the tension drain away, just a little. My shoulders fell back and my hands had stopped shaking. Truth was, I'd just stalled for time, but the laugh had helped me feel just a bit better. "Well, I'd do what I do at home. Pick depending on my mood. Right now, I'd probably just want to tune out for a little, so either a box-set or film."
"Okay. Err, probably comedy for film and TV. Don't have a preference with books. Music…rock. Well, pretty much anything alternative."
"Name three of the seven horcruxes."
If he thought that was going to be difficult, he was mistaken. "Ravenclaw's…" Shit. Wait. What was the word? "Diadem!" I think he saw the relief on my face. Jared laughed again and waved for me to go on. "Tom Riddle's diary, and Slytherin's locket."
"Katniss' love interests."
"Peeta, spelt P-E-E-T-A, and Gale."
"Pivotal moment in Twilight."
"Don't care. Don't like it. Read the first book but really wasn't impressed."
"I'm liking you more and more, kid. Okay. Let's see…" He turned back to the application form. "Who does Wesley become in The Princess Bride?"
"The Dread Pirate Roberts."
"Good. Iron Man's real name."
"Tony Stark. That's not on there."
"Nah, I just wanted to know if you knew." He tapped his fingers against the table, leant back and studied me. "Your uncle said he wanted your grades to remain high."
"Yeah. Job can't interfere with school-work."
"Understandable. How does four hours every Saturday sound? I can offer you after school and holiday shifts, too, but only when you're on top of your schoolwork."
"Good. Pair of jeans and whatever pop culture t-shirts you have. You get discount, so if you need a couple of extra t-shirts I suggest keeping an eye out when they come in. Start next Saturday?"
"Yeah. Awesome! Thank you!"
He grinned at me and stood up, holding out his hand. I copied his movements and we shook, his grip firm and steady.
"See you next week, kid."
X X X
My uncle burst out of the living room moments after I had come in and set my stuff down in the corridor.
"I have an idea!" he announced, a grin stretching ear to ear. "Oh, wait, how'd it go?"
"He offered me a job. Start next Saturday."
"That's great! See, I told you you'd get it."
He stepped back into the living room and I followed, trying to work out what he was so excited about.
"He didn't ask any of the usual interview questions," I said, falling down onto the couch as Matt bustled around the living room, shifting things, stepping back and studying them before putting them back in their original positions.
"Nah, he wouldn't. What does he care about where you're going to be in five years time?" He glanced over his shoulder at me. "Anyway. Idea. Saturday is designated movie night. We get a takeaway, I get some beers. Err, you can have wine, if you like." He waved a hand in the air. "But not too much, okay? And your friends can come over, too."
"Yeah, okay. What about Melinda?"
"Might join us when I've introduced you guys." He paused, rubbing the back of his neck before running a hand through the back of his hair. "And if I'm out on Saturday nights, I'll leave you money for a takeaway."
"Great! Go on, then, call your mates!" He nudged me before leaping to his feet. "Get their addresses, and I'll go pick them up. Say, around half six?"
I fished out my mobile as Matt crossed the room and left, leaving me to sink into the sofa. A big smile burst out over my face as I glanced at the TV. It was off, and in the dark screen I could see a sort of happy girl, eager to tell her friends her news.
X X X
The five of us gathered in the living room, Aiden and Matt with an armchair and a beer each, Olivia, Faye and me on the sofa. Three glasses of wine sat on the coffee table in front of us, along with a pile of takeaway menus.
The look of wonder of Aiden's face hadn't disappeared since we'd come in. His mouth was open slightly, eyes wide, as he looked around at all the stuff in Matt's living room.
In honour of my new job, Matt had suggested I pick the film. And as it was one my favourites and one Jared had asked about, I'd pulled out The Princess Bride. Now we were just trying to decide where to order from before starting the film.
"This place is amazing," Aiden said, shaking his head as he drew his eyes away from the reimagined film poster for Pulp Fiction.
"Thanks," Matt said, grinning. "Glad you like it." He turned to us. "Is it highly irresponsible of me to be giving you kids alcohol?"
"We won't drink too much," Olivia promised. "And we have drunk before."
"I'm sure you have." He settled back in the chair. "Right. Food. What does everyone fancy?"
He grinned at me as the other three debated over what to have. Aiden wanted pizza, Faye wasn't fussed on pizza and wanted Chinese, while Olivia, who loved her spicy foods, wanted Indian.
Eventually, when it seemed the argument would take forever, Matt held up his hands. "Sophia has the deciding vote," he said. "What do you fancy?"
Under their gazes, I felt my face flush red. I made a show of looking through the menus and glancing at the food on offer as I tried to decide what I fancied. Truth was, I was happy with any of them. If we got pizza, it could be shared and Faye could have a burger. Chinese would come with prawn crackers, Indian would provide poppadums' and chutneys, all of which I very much liked.
Eventually, I just closed my eyes and let my hand hover over the menus, bringing my hand down at a random point.
"Indian it is," I said with a grin. Olivia cheered and we agreed next time, it would be pizza and burgers or Chinese.
After we'd ordered, Matt went to get plates for us all. The three of them turned to me.
"Have you spoken to Hunter yet?" Faye asked, watching me carefully. I shook my head.
"Not really. I will. I just…haven't had time to think about it yet."
"It's good you've got a job." The other two nodded at Olivia's statement. "Just something to keep busy."
"Yeah. You should come see me when I'm working. The shop's really cool."
Matt returned and put the film on. We sank into silence as we heard the story of Buttercup and Wesley, as he ventured out into the world to claim enough wealth to marry her.
Love was simple in the world the film created. Even with all the complications thrown their way. They loved each other, and they were going to end up together.
Shame it was nothing like real life.
X X X
I hadn't told any of them, but Hunter had texted me in the afternoon and asked if we could meet that Sunday.
If you're ready to talk to me.
I hadn't told them because I didn't want to talk over it all night. I didn't want them calling me Sunday to see how it had gone and find out what was happening.
I still wasn't totally sure how I felt about the whole thing, or how I felt about him.
But I had agreed because I wanted to see him and because I wanted to talk to him. I had thought it about it, in class, between classes, after school even as I did my homework or helped Uncle Matt with a few chores.
By my own reasoning, seeing him would give me a better idea of how I actually felt about him and how I wanted to go forward. If I saw him and it didn't feel right…
Well, I would decide what to do.
So Sunday morning I showered and got dressed. Usually I'd throw on whatever I had to hand. But I was seeing Hunter, and I knew I would at least have to put some effort in. My best pair of jeans were a pair of skinny black ones, the kind that after a few months became the most comfortable thing in the world. On top I wore a tight fitting girl's Atticus t-shirt. Satisfied with the clothes, I began on the make-up, taking my time to get the eyeliner just right.
When I came downstairs, Matt was flicking through a film magazine. As I stepped into the room he looked up and smiled.
"You look pretty. Going to see that fella of yours?"
"Yeah. Any chance you could give me a lift into the town centre?" I felt bad for asking, but I hadn't wanted Hunter to pick me up and public transport on a Sunday was crap. Might as well have tried to make it to the moon.
"Sure." He closed the magazine and put it on the coffee table. "Can I come in and threaten him not to hurt you?"
I really couldn't tell if he was joking or not. There was a smile on his face, but his tone had been all serious. As I gaped at him he began to laugh.
"I'm joking, Sophia." He shook his head. "I'll wait until he comes here to do that."
He was still laughing as he grabbed the car keys and stepped outside.
X X X
Matt dropped me off, telling me to call him if I needed a lift back.
"Or, you know, someone to punch his lights out."
I still couldn't tell if he was being serious.
I climbed out of the car and watched him pull off before turning to glance inside. Hunter had wanted to meet at the small café where we'd had lunch with Holly and Mattie. I'd agreed, because I couldn't think of anywhere else. Wasn't like I could go into the pub and get a drink.
He was already inside waiting for me, and stood up when I came in.
"You look really nice," he said, smiling softly at me. "Want a drink?"
"Just a coke, please."
He nodded and headed for the counter as I sat down, glad the counter was behind me so I could take a couple of deep breaths while I waited. If someone had held a gun to my head and told me there and then to explain what I felt on seeing him, I don't think I would have been able to answer.
Hunter was handsome, and seeing him again set the butterflies in my stomach off. I could practically feel them bumping into each other as they darted around. I wanted him. I wanted him to want me and I wanted to feel his lips on mine, feel the brush of skin on skin.
But I was still trying to understand everything else, trying to link together the guy I thought I knew with the kind of guy who had just slept with girls and discarded them. Even if he wouldn't do that to me, he'd done it to others. He'd done it to Jess. Sure, she was horrible, but on this at least she had every reason to hate me.
He brought the coke to me in a circular glass with the Coca Cola logo on it. Ice cubes clinked together as he set it down, hand brushing mine, resting on the table. Hunter sat back down, placing his own Coca Cola glass down.
"How'd the move go?"
"Good, thanks." My hand felt warm where he'd brushed it. "Just about settled in now."
"It's your uncle, right?"
"Yeah. Uncle and godfather."
Hunter nodded, as if thinking it over. I kept my eyes on him as he leant back, gaze flickering up to me and back down to the table.
Finally, he spoke. "I can't change my past, Sophia."
Silence. Horrible, tense silence. I tried to think of something – anything – to say, and found I couldn't. There were no words to describe what I was feeling right then, to explain that I felt bad for those girls before me. They had nothing to do with me, and hopefully had nothing to do with him anymore. But I still felt guilty, like I was in some way responsible. It was absurd and I knew that, but it didn't stop it being true.
"I messed up, didn't I?"
I took a deep breath. "Hunter, I do…I do believe you when you say you won't do that to me. I just…I don't really get how you could do it to anyone. And do it more than once. It's…it's cruel. And you shouldn't have lied to me about Jessica."
He reached across the table, took my hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry," he said. "I know I shouldn't have lied. I just…when I met you I had no clue what you would do to me. And by the time I realised, well, I didn't come clean because I was so scared of what it would do to us."
Us. That single word made my heart hammer, made my throat feel dry.
"I just…I really don't know, Hunter."
"It's your decision, Sophia. Completely and utterly. I'll…" He stopped, took a deep breath. "Whatever you decide, I'll go along with it."
I nodded, trying to ignore how hot my hand was under his.
"So," he said, squeezing again. "What do you want to do?"
A/N: As always, a huge, huge thank you to everyone who has read this. It really means a lot to me to know people are enjoying the story. Reviews of a decent length will be returned. Let me know any thoughts you have, in regards to anything in the story. And if you have a moment, there is a poll on my profile page that could really do with some extra votes. I'm eager to start something new soon and this will really help me decide what to work on. Thank you.